Guest Post – Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., Habits Give You Power

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brainThe human brain runs on habit. Electricity flows through your brain the way water flows in the rain, finding the path of least resistance. When a channel is carved, you have a habit. Carve a broccoli channel and your fried-chicken circuit is less likely to light up.

You can build new brain circuits in 45 days. Just repeat a new behavior every day without fail and in six weeks your neurons will have lots of new connections. Your new circuits can grow big enough to compete with your old ones. Broccoli can feel as normal and natural as the comforts you used to reach for.

I’m not saying you won’t be tempted by things that are bad for you. Our bodies evolved to desire anything that promoted survival in a world of scarcity. But you don’t have to dwell on such desires. Temptation is easier to avoid when the electricity in your brain has another road to travel. New circuits cause you to think of healthy choices as “what I do,” and unhealthy choices as “not what I do.”

Try it! Start with something small but important to you. Be sure to repeat it every day whether you “feel like it” or not……whether your friends and family support you or not……whether you believe this will work or not. You will be so excited with the results that you’ll think of many new habits to build.

The extra neurons are what make us human.

This works because humans are born with lots of neurons but very few connections between them. The extra neurons are what make us human. Animals are born pre-wired with circuits that lead them to food. That’s why animals can survive without their parents soon after they’re born. We humans take a long time to meet our own needs because we build our survival circuits gradually over time.

brainWhen you’re young, your brain makes connections easily. Young brains release chemicals that are like paving on your neural highways. You rely on those highways as if your life depended on it because in the state of nature, it does. If you spent your early years sitting on the couch eating junk food, your brain perceives that as the way to survive. If you try to do better later on, it feels like something is wrong even when you do what’s right. Without your old grooves, you may feel like your survival is threatened. That’s why it’s hard to change.

You can change your wiring in adulthood, but without the help of those youthful brain chemicals it takes a lot of repetition. You can divert your electricity into brave new channels instead of just going with the flow. The next time you smell a fried chicken stand, you can activate alternatives in your mind. That is what makes you human!

Loretta Breuning is author of the book Meet Your Happy Chemicals, which shows how you can naturally stimulate more of the dopamine, serotonin and endorphin that make you happy. Dr. Breuning is Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, and a Docent at the Oakland Zoo.